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UNH Piloting New Sustainability Rating System for Colleges and Universities

By Sara Cleaves, Sustainability Academy
March 26, 2008

In 2008, UNH will be piloting to the “STARS.”

The Durham campus will join more than 90 college and university campuses selected to participate in the 2008 pilot year of a rating system for sustainability in higher education being developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

UNH is the only New Hampshire campus piloting the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), which launched February 4th. Other New England institutions joining UNH include the University of Maine at Orono, the University of Southern Maine, Williams College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Green Mountain College, and Middlebury College.

The 90-plus participating campuses were selected to represent a wide range of institutional types, sizes, and geography. They include public and private schools, community colleges, and research universities.

Lead by the University Office of Sustainability in partnership with Institutional Research and Assessment, UNH will test STARS throughout 2008 by working with offices and departments across campus to collect as much of the data called for in the self-assessment system as possible. Feedback from each office and department on the categories and credits in STARS will also be shared in order to inform the final version of STARS, which will be released in 2009.

“As a national leader in sustainability, UNH will be able to bring its unique sustainable learning community model and years of experience to bear on the development of a promising sustainability rating system for higher education,” said Tom Kelly, UNH’s chief sustainability officer and a member of the technical advisory committee helping AASHE develop STARS. “We are looking forward to working closely with Institutional Research and Assessment and with offices and departments across campus to help inform STARS’ development.”

Despite the rapid growth of sustainability commitments and initiatives at institutions of higher education in North America, to date there is no well-developed and recognized system that allows institutions to benchmark and assess progress.

While other surveys and rankings of sustainability on campuses do exist, they tend to focus only on certain aspects of sustainability (such as environmental stewardship), certain aspects of an institution’s mission and identity (such as operations), or certain types of institutions (such as the 200 institutions with the largest endowments).

STARS will allow the diverse higher education community to evaluate sustainability as its broadly defined (from social responsibility to environmental stewardship to community engagement) in three main categories – Curriculum and Research, Operations, and Administration and Finance. The system is similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) green building rating system. Under STARS, campuses earn credits, which ranging from “purchasing” and “buildings” in Operations to “investment” and “planning” in Administration and Finance. Points under each credit are added to determine a final rating of 1 to 4 with 4 being highest. Campuses are only rated within their institutional designation: associate's college, doctorate-granting university, master's college and university, baccalaureate college, and tribal college.

“The launch of the pilot phase is a major milestone in the development of STARS,” said Judy Walton, AASHE’s acting executive director. “It has taken nearly two years of hard work and the contributions of hundreds of individuals from every sector of the higher education community to bring us to this point.”

For more information about STARS, visit www.aashe.org/stars. Discover the sustainable learning community at UNH at www.sustainableunh.unh.edu.

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